Following a search for a replacement, Commissioner Karen Gardner will leave the Vashon Park District Board.
Her departure comes at a challenging time for Parks, as the board hopes that legislation enabling Washington park and recreation districts to collect tax revenue from a new source of funding will help preserve Parks’ voter-approved levy, which finances almost all district operations and services.
Parks is set to lose a total of $132,000 in tax revenue this year, about 9% of the district’s budget, due to prorationing, following the adoption of the Vashon Fire District’s budget in December and a higher-than-expected spending plan for the Vashon Health Care District that led to the $5.90 combined statutory local levy limit on the island being exceeded.
Parks’ budget was already slim after voters rejected a $.52 cent levy plan in 2019, and then instead renewed a $.45 cent park levy per $1,000 property value assessed, amounting to $1.5 million in levy revenue. With prorationing, the district’s levy will be reduced to $1.35 million, which will leave Parks unable to keep up with inflation in the years to come and could mean the district will have to lay off employees and cut services down the road.
The board is seeking a candidate to serve an interim 10-month term from March to December and has already received four applications. The board plans to hold an election in November to fill the position for a full two-year term.
Executive Director Elaine Ott-Rocheford commended Gardner for her broad, well-founded approach to the role, as well as her passion for environmental responsibility and interest in serving the special needs and senior populations of the island.
“She’s just so brilliant. You know, she’s always had such an intellectual perspective on things without a lot of emotion. It was just a delight working with her,” she said.
Owing to previous mismanagement and infighting among previous board members that often gave way to shouting matches during public meetings, Gardner ran and was elected to the board five years ago at another time of financial uncertainty for Parks. Commissioners have worked together successfully over the years since to support the district and make it stronger, building reserves and reducing debt.
She was instrumental in helping to develop Parks’ strategic plan during her tenure, a systematic, guiding document that forms the lion’s share of the district’s maintenance and programming goals through 2024. She also played a key role in reviewing board policies and shaping the vision of the grant-funded renovation of the Ober Park playground, nicknamed “The Playground for All,” which will serve groups such as special needs and senior communities better. The project will replace most of the existing playground equipment for children with ADA-compliant facilities, install senior adult exercise stations and a circular walk. It is expected to be completed this spring.
“The park district provides such value to the island. And I would say it is really worth fighting for,” Gardner said in an interview. “It’s just been a wonderful experience. And I hope that there are several people who would want to apply for it because it’s incredibly rewarding.”
Interested candidates have to be a resident of the island, a registered voter, and have no previous felonies. Commissioners attend two meetings on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. Applicants should contact Ott-Rocheford at email@example.com.